The President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, has accused the Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali of favouring officers of northern origin in postings to head most of the Customs commands across the country.
Amiwero, who made the allegation while speaking exclusively with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY on Ali’s three years in office, also accused the Customs Comptroller-General of lopsidedness in the promotion of officers.
He said, “Although there have been some improvement in terms of promotion but it is as if the (Nigeria) Customs Service is just for the northerners.
“Almost all the Area Commands you go, you see northern officers. This is not too good for a government agency. There is need to redesign the (Nigeria Customs) Service such that it will not be a northern service whereby northerners are placed in certain positions.
“Promotion has to be redistributed to comply with the procedure. What is happening in Customs should be redirected so that people can be placed properly,” he said.
Amiwero, also scored Ali low on performance after three years, saying that the ex-military officer has failed to carry out much needed reforms in the NCS.
He said, “Reforming Customs is not just posting people from one place to the other. I don’t think Customs has been reformed because the tools for reformation are not there; no scanners at the ports, procedures are still archaic, and containers spend more time at the port because of complex alert.
“Customs’ job is about procedure and there are many procedures that are not complied with in terms of convention and agreement.
“For instance in Ghana, they have the satellite tracking system and they are also meeting up the challenges of the Single Window. But what do we have here in Nigeria? Nothing.
The CG is a stranger as far as Customs is concern. He cannot reform Customs because most of the tools are not there and the procedures he does not know. He is not a seasoned officer.
“In terms of revenue, are we really having the cargo coming in? What Customs is doing is imposing value and killing the industry because most of the cargoes are leaving the country.”
Others score Ali low, say Customs still corrupt
Also speaking on Ali’s three-year tenure, Director General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, scored the Customs boss low on the ease of doing business and facilitation of trade.
“On the business climate perspective, things have not been easy for us at all because the focus of Customs is too much on revenue. They are too relegated in the ease of doing business to the background. Particularly on the issue of arbitrary valuation, issues of classification and the problem of Customs operatives intercepting containers on the road. All these make things very difficult for business people.
“Trade facilitation is almost not on the agenda of Customs. Main agenda and the key performance indicator for Customs has always been revenue generation which is why not more attention is being given to ease of doing business and trade facilitation. There is too much focus on revenue generation and it is coming at a great cost to businesses,” he said.
The LCCI boss is also of the opinion that reformation of the Service under Ali has not recorded any remarkable progress as envisaged, noting that it will be more easier for an insider who has knowledge of Customs operations to reform it than “an outsider” like Ali.
A retired customs officer, who pleaded that he did not want his name in print, said Ali has not achieved much in terms of discipline within the rank and file while corruption in the Service has risen to a larger scale.
“Discipline has been shored up but it is not yet uhuru when we talk about discipline in the Service. Corruption is still what it is, even at a larger scale. The fight against corruption in the Service shares the same fence with the fight against corruption in Nigeria and impunity is still the order of the day in the Service.
“In terms of restructuring, the CG has tried to align the Service with military structure by the establishment of the Customs police. The intelligent unit has also been given a more professional touch. In terms of revenue generation, we saw a remarkable increase but the argument was that what was the difference in exchange rate during the former CG’s tenure and the present administration? The CG may have tried in some aspects within available resources but he has to put more effort in making government provide tools for the Service. For example, none of the scanning machines we have at the port is functioning,” he said.
The Founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarder (NAGAFF) Boniface Aniebonam, also said “high-level corruption” still exists in the Service.
He however argues that Ali has been doing his best within available resources to achieve the mandate handed to him by the President.
“We all know he has good intentions in line with the mandate given to him by the President but the port is extremely corrupt. Operationally, we are facing a lot of hiccups but every stakeholder has a role to play for the mandate to be achieved. He cannot succeed unless everybody joins hands with him.
“For example, on matters of compliance to regulation, the level of compliance on Customs related matter is quite low and that is why Customs don’t facilitate trade. So sometimes, when people bring up the issue of trade facilitation, I believe they are only misinterpreting it because Customs cannot facilitate illegitimate trade or trade that is in breach of the law.
“In terms of promotion, a lot has happened and these are things that spur the willingness of an officer to do the job,” he said.
Ali was appointed on August 27, 2015 by President Muhammadu Buhari at a time the NCS’s reputation was marred by corrupt practices and allegations of fraud against its former management.
Ali’s anticorruption posture was reportedly one of the reasons the President considered him best fit for the Customs top job.
Considering his military background and being an outsider , Ali’s appointment was however criticized by stakeholders, including customs agents and legal practitioners who unanimously voiced their opposition to the appointment, which they described as a retrogressive step as they say Ali may not have what it takes to steer the NCS to modernization.
On September 10, 2015 when Ali assumed duty, he stated that his mission was to undertake reforms and restructuring that would strengthen the capacity of the NCS to generate more revenue for the nation.
In his maiden meeting with the Customs management, Ali had stated the mandate given to him by President Muhammadu Buhari.
He said, “The mandate he has given me are three basic things: Go to Customs, reform Customs, restructure Customs and increase the revenue generation, simple. I don’t think that is ambiguous, I don’t think that is cumbersome.”